How To Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs

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Our culture seems more divided than ever, many of us hardened against any idea that contradicts our particularly held narratives of how the world works. Alan Jacobs, a professor at Baylor University, experiences this division first-hand in navigating two very different groups that often view one another as an RCO – the Repugnant Cultural Other (a term borrowed from anthropologist Susan Friend Harding). Jacobs has spent his life working in academia and is also a committed follower of Jesus Christ. He has experienced a hardened animosity between these groups, which seem unable to have constructive and civil dialogue together. This is the reason for his book How To Think, on the art of learning to think in our cultural moment.

In chapter one of his book, Jacobs recounts the story of Megan Phelps-Roper, who was part of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. This church was founded by her grandfather and is probably best known for its public statement: “God Hates Fags.” After Phelps-Roper is befriended by someone holding very different views from herself, she begins to think outside the narrative with which she grew up. Her thinking begins to change. This journey illustrates some of the ways that the author calls us to engage, in order to navigate the hardened silos of narrow thinking in which we are all prone to operate.

Jacobs carefully crafts a vision for thinking that, I believe, we all hope to live out in our own lives but are often ill-equipped to do in our divided cultural moment. At the end of the book, he summarizes a 12-point Thinking Person’s Checklist. Two of those points are:

  • Seek out the best and fairest-minded of people whose views you disagree with. Listen to them for a time without responding. Whatever they say, think it over.
  • Try to describe others’ positions in the language that they use, without indulging in in-other-wordsing.

As believers, we of all people should be people who engage with others with this kind of mindset. As Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your Mind.”

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